The monarch butterfly could be considered a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act after various conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in August to add it to the endangered and threatened species list.
In 1996 around 1 billion monarch butterflies arrived at their wintering grounds in Mexico. Last year that number dropped to a record low of 33 million.
Because of this severe decline the federal agency said that it is going to be looking into whether the monarch should be listed. In a release the agency said that the petition “presents substantial information indicating that listing may be warranted.”
The butterflies have distinctive colorful wings and are known for their spectacular migration every year from Mexico to Canada and back.
Over the past twenty years the monarch butterfly population has plummeted 20 percent.
Scientist Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said that now there is some hope.
“This will be a rallying point and hopefully a turning point for the population,” Curry said. “This announcement shows how big the problem is.”
“The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool available to save monarchs, so I’m really happy these amazing butterflies are a step closer to the protection they so desperately need,” Curry said.
Scientists say that the cause of the decline in the monarch butterfly population is due to herbicides that are used with genetically engineered crops in the Midwest – where most monarch butterflies are born.
Since the 1990s scientists have said that the butterflies could have lost over 165 million acres of habitat, including almost a third of their summer breeding grounds.
“We hope the announcement today is the beginning of a move to save these creatures,” Curry said. “These are the butterflies we used to chase through our backyards as kids. Nobody wants to see them gone.”